There was only one fish story circulating at the Marshall Hall boat landing yesterday, and it had to do with the character pictured on the "Wanted" poster tacked up near the ramp.
"Have you seen this fish?" the poster asked, going on to describe the "big teeth" and "small head" of the potentially disastrous northern snakehead.
"Thank you, anyway. I don't want to. . . . That's an ugly critter," said Carolyn Gregory of Bryans Road as she pulled up to the Charles County landing with a vanload of relatives.
The latest snakehead to be caught in the Washington area was fished from the Potomac River near the boat ramp Wednesday, raising concerns that the Potomac may be a new -- and hard-to-control -- home for the dreaded fish with the big appetite. Another snakehead had been caught the previous week right across the river on the Virginia shore. And although officials were able to drain a Wheaton lake last month after a single snakehead was found there, that remedy, of course, is not an option for a river.
Maybe the other fish knew something yesterday -- they weren't biting. The big splattering raindrops of the morning gave way to blue skies streaked with clouds, and the Potomac had a silver-and-bronze sheen in the sunlight. White boats dotted the water, no doubt filled with anglers reluctant to come face to face with an actual snakehead.
"I gave it some thought today," admitted Mick Couchenour of Charles, who was out fishing for bass. "I don't know how you're going to get rid of them if they're in here. If they get to multiplying, it'll be bad -- it'll hurt the bass and cost the state of Maryland a heap of money."
The northern snakehead, kept largely as an aquarium fish or sometimes bought for food, has several creepy qualities, including an ability to maneuver on land and an appetite that some fear could decimate the Potomac's rockfish and largemouth bass populations. It made its first highly publicized appearance in area waters two years ago and has kept environmental officials in a state of alarm since.
To an extent, authorities are relying on anglers such as Couchenour and his buddy Dave Jackson to help monitor the snakehead population. Anyone catching a snakehead is advised first to kill it by "cutting/bleeding or freezing" it, according to the poster, and then report the catch to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Zymena Lyles, 11, was hoping it wouldn't come to that as she unloaded the fishing poles from the back of her father's truck. Did she want to catch a snakehead? "Noooooo," she cried, making a face that would be at home in a horror-movie audience.
"I'm not very good at fishing. Maybe I won't catch anything," she said hopefully. Her 13-year-old cousin, Nekia Mattingly, nodded in agreement.
Zymena's father, John Lyles, said, however, that he would take whatever came. "If I do find one, good," he said, adding that he would follow the official guidelines exactly.
Odell Carter, who lives in Lanham, was not having luck of any kind. Scouting about for free places to take his three children fishing this summer, he had come to Marshall Hall, not fully aware of its claim to fame. The historic mansion that gives the area its name stood majestically to the side, and the growth along the riverbanks was lush and green.
"If I had one bite, I'd stay out here all day," he said. But he would like to know more about the snakehead. "I've just had a quick glimpse at the news," he said. "Maybe they should put out a little movie."
But Carolyn Gregory has seen everything she needs to.
"They are gross," she explained to a relative who was not as well-informed. "They walk on the land and they kill other fish -- that's all you need to know."
She isn't sure what the solution is. "You can't drain the Potomac," she said. "They'd better go back to the drawing board."
Jackson has thought about it a lot: "The only thing I can see is if they get the wildlife people together and line up those boats that they shock fish with, and start at one end and go to the other," he said. "All that'll do is stun the fish and bring them to the top of the water. It'll never happen, though."